Google's Webmaster Tools offers informative reporting that many site owners overlook. Part one of a series.
Webmasters frequently rave about Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) because it's a great source of data about site-crawling errors, as well as the place where you can tell Google about XML sitemap feeds. But GWT is much more. Let's examine several reports deep inside GWT that can significantly help search marketing efforts.
Pages With External Links
How do other sites link to yours? Do all inbound links point to your home page, or do you have a broad portfolio of deep URLs with quality incoming links? A top-heavy linking structure is one in which the home page receives the vast majority, maybe all, of the site's third-party inbound links. While it's great to have links pointing to your home page, a robust linking strategy suggests that links to deeper, more content-focused URLs is beneficial to get your deeper pages to rank and perform well for more focused queries.
In GWT's Links section is a report called "Pages with external links." It lists each URL on your site that has inbound, third-party links. Download the whole report using the "Download this table" link near the bottom, and view it in a spreadsheet. Besides your home page (which will typically have the most inbound links on a site), your site should have a handful of URLs with significant inbound link counts.
In addition, download the link specifics using the "Download all external links" link at the bottom of the page. This full report takes the preceding report one step further. It shows not only how many links point to your site's pages, but which external URLs link to them. This is helpful because while you might be impressed that a deep page on your site has 400 inbound links, the report might show that 380 of them come from a run-of-site blogroll link from an off-topic site.
Top Search Queries, Easy Gains
What search queries bring the most clicks to your site? Chances are, if you monitor your Web analytics program, you already have a pretty good idea. But how does the percentage of clicks change as your URLs move up and down the ranking ladder? What terms are just shy of ranking well enough to pull in decent traffic?
What your analytics suite can't tell you as easily is the terms you're already ranking for but not well enough to get the click. The real beauty of these two reports, "Top search queries" and "Top clicked queries," is the data they show when you contrast the two. For example, queries for which your site shows up on the "Top search queries" report but not on the "Top clicked queries" report shows the pages that are ranking pretty well but not well enough to get the click. Contrasting these two lists produces a report of queries that, with a little work, are well within your grasp, assuming your work can boost the sites up a few spots on the Google results page.
If you rank well for a term but it doesn't show up in the "Top clicked queries" report, one possible reason is your URL may not look very appealing on the search results page. Perform a manual search for the specific query and see how your site looks. Sometimes the easiest journey from ranking to click is a compelling new description.
Top Search Queries for Mobile Search
What do people search for from their mobile devices? Driving directions, movie times, and restaurants, right? Right. And wrong. From the same "Top search queries" report discussed previously, select "Mobile devices" from the "Choose search type:" drop-down menu. You may be surprised to see that people search for the same sorts of things on mobile devices that they search for on their PCs. And your site is showing up for them.
Stop thinking of mobile users as people who are driving. Think of them as regular people, performing typical search queries, who happen to be away from their computers. At the bookstore. At the hardware store. In their living rooms. If you're not familiar with the way your site looks in a mobile browser, become familiar with it. Now.
Google Webmaster Tools: Easy to Use
As long as you're an authorized GWT user, you can access this data by yourself, with no assistance from your IT staff or Web analytics package.
Next time: other reports in GWT that are frequently underutilized but produce solid intelligence when properly monitored.
Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.
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Erik Dafforn is the executive vice president of Intrapromote LLC, an SEO firm headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio. Erik manages SEO campaigns for clients ranging from tiny to enormous and edits Intrapromote's blog, SEO Speedwagon. Prior to joining Intrapromote in 1999, Erik worked as a freelance writer and editor. He also worked in-house as a development editor for Macmillan and IDG Books. Erik has a Bachelor's degree in English from Wabash College. Follow Erik and Intrapromote on Twitter.
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12:00pm ET/9:00am PT